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Regulating the Winter Olympics in Russia

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The following is a guest post by Peter Roudik, Director of the Global Legal Research Directorate in the Law Library of Congress.  Peter is our Russian law specialist and has previously written posts for In Custodia Legis on Soviet law and the assassination of JFK, laws of the Russian Federation, the 95th anniversary of the Pittsburgh Agreement, the ASIL annual meeting, the impact of Russian laws on US-Russia economic relations, and the Treaty on the Creation of the Soviet Union.

Other Library of Congress blogs are also publishing Winter Olympics-related posts and we will link to these as they become available: Olympic Promotional Ads Inspired Through Poetry (From the Catbird Seat: Poetry & Literature at the Library of Congress); Capturing and Preserving the Olympic Spirit Via Web Archiving (The Signal: Digital Preservation); Bringing the Olympic Games into Your Classroom with Primary Sources (Teaching with the Library of Congress); Curling: Right on the Button (Picture This: Library of Congress Prints & Photos).

Sochi. Vid s zapada. Ri︠e︡ka Sochi [Sochi. View from the west. Sochi River]. Sergei Mikhailovich Prokudin-Gorskii [between 1905 and 1915] (digital color composite from digital file from glass neg.
Sochi. Vid s zapada. Ri︠e︡ka Sochi [Sochi. View from the west. Sochi River]. Sergei Mikhailovich Prokudin-Gorskii [between 1905 and 1915] (digital color composite from digital file from glass neg.
Usually when the planet’s fastest and strongest meet at the Olympic Games, they are there to set new sports records.  However, in Sochi, Russia, where the Winter Olympics started this week, other types of records were established long before today’s Opening Ceremony.

Some of these non-sporting records have been broadly discussed by various media outlets.  For example, it has been reported that Sochi is the warmest place at which the the Winter Olympics have ever been held.  It is about 50°F there now, and it was necessary to stockpile  tons of snow from previous winters.  Another record involves the cost of the Games: the Sochi Games are now the most expensive in the history of the Winter Olympics.  Around US$50 billion were spent on the preparations, which is apparently more than the combined expenditures for all the Winter Olympics since 1924!  Reports state that these will also be the most secure Olympic Games in history.  According to different estimates, for every athlete competing at the games there will be a combined total of about 20 military, law enforcement, and security personnel.

One more non-sports record that has perhaps been less covered by the media is that these might also be the Games at which the behavior of fans will be the most regulated.  First, if someone is going to watch the Games in Sochi, it is not enough to buy a ticket, the prices for which range from US$20 at some ski racing events to US$2,000 for the best seats at the men’s ice hockey final.  In addition to tickets, everyone older than 2 years of age who wants to be at the stadium must obtain a so-called “spectator pass.”  To get the pass, each person must send a request to the Games’ organizers and provide copies of the purchased event tickets and a copy of their national identification document.  After reviewing and processing the application, the authorities may then issue a badge which will serve as an entry permit for areas beyond what is being called Putin’s “ring of steel” and allow its holder to attend sporting events.  The request for the pass can be denied without explanation.  It has been reported that Russian citizens who were previously associated with political opposition groups did not receive passes.

Even if someone were able to purchase tickets, get a pass, and finally come to Sochi and register with the authorities as an attendee of the Games, this person cannot just go ahead and immediately support his or her team in any old way they choose.  Depending on how he or she will show support, government permission might be needed.

On January 20, 2014, Russian Government Regulation No. 1156 entered into force.  This Regulation provides for the “rules of spectators’ behavior at official sporting events.”  It defines the sort of items a fan may take to the stands as well as what may be said and how it may be said.  In addition to banning from the stands those who are drunk, the Regulation also bans people who are accompanied by animals, people carrying soft drinks in large bottles, and people wearing masks and other clothes that cover their faces, as well as people wearing no clothes at all.  The Regulation also prohibits bringing in anything larger than 16 inches in any dimension.  While an exception is made for loudspeakers, drums, horns, and other musical instruments, these things can only be brought into the stadium after receiving a written permit from the organizers.  Requests for this type of permit must be submitted no later than two business days before the event, and the decision will be made within the following 24 hours.  If a permit is issued (the number of permits issued is limited to a quota established by the event organizers), the authorities will designate a person who is allowed to bring an “item used for team support.”  The authorities will also decide on the place in the stands where this person may be located.  Permits are not transferable, and local police will be informed of each case in which a permit is issued.  No political, extremist, offensive, provocative, or commercial wording may be placed on any items admitted for team support.

Sochi River
Ri︠e︡ka Sochi [Sochi River]. Sergei Mikhailovich Prokudin-Gorskii [between 1905 and 1915] (digital color composite from digital file from glass neg.
Speaking of political statements, you may have seen reports of a Decree issued by President Vladimir Putin in August 2013, which outlawed all protests, demonstrations, meetings, and mass gatherings in Sochi from January through March 2014, if they do not relate to the Olympic Games.  Later, this Decree was amended, and a park located about ten miles from the center of Sochi was designated for public actions if they are approved by the Sochi municipal authorities.

In addition to the mandatory two-day preliminary approval procedure for bringing certain items to the events, special rules exist for flags and banners that are used by the fans to cheer on their teams.  First of all, flags and banners cannot be longer than two yards, and if they contain any words, these words shall be translated into Russian–even if your team does not speak Russian and won’t be able to read the translated message.  Furthermore, a simple translation is not enough.  A supporter of a team must find a notary and arrange for the official notarization of the translation before submitting it for approval.  In the case of flags of foreign countries, no translation is required; however, fans must ensure that flags are no longer than two yards and are fireproof.  If a fireproof certificate isn’t produced at the request of police or security personnel, fans waving the flag may be removed from the stadium.

Those who want to avoid all this hassle can chose to support Team Russia.  A Russian team club was opened in the Olympic Village and fans can pick up their free flags there.  Apparently, they will all be certified fireproof.

If you decided to watch the Olympics from the U.S. and would like to mail something to your friends who are in Sochi for the Games, make sure that you take your parcel to the post office unsealed.  All correspondence mailed to Sochi is subject to additional inspections as ordered by the Russian Postal Service.  You may have also seen reports this week about the difficulties that one company encountered when it tried to ship a particular food product to the U.S. athletes, apparently without obtaining the correct paperwork.

While you’re watching the Games on TV, keep an eye out to see if you notice any of these rules in action.  Enjoy the Olympics!

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